Energy & Grid

Xinyu Chen, Michael B. McElroy, Qiuwei Wu, Yinbiao Shu, and Yusheng Xue. 2018. “Transition towards higher penetration of renewables: an overview of interlinked technical, environmental and socio-economic challenges.” Journal of Modern Power Systems and Clean Energy. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Investment for renewables has been growing rapidly since the beginning of the new century, and the momentum is expected to sustain in order to mitigate the impact of anthropogenic climate change. Transition towards higher renewable penetration in the power industry will not only confront technical challenges, but also face socio-economic obstacles. The connected between environment and energy systems are also tightened under elevated penetration of renewables. This paper will provide an overview of some important challenges related to technical, environmental and socio-economic aspects at elevated renewable penetration. An integrated analytical framework for interlinked technical, environmental and socio-economic systems will be presented at the end.
Meng Gao, Gufran Beig, Shaojie Song, Hongliang Zhang, Jianlin Hu, Qi Ying, Fengchao Liang, Yang Liu, Haikun Wang, Xiao Lu, Tong Zhu, Gregory Carmichael, Chris P. Nielsen, and Michael B. McElroy. 2018. “The Impact of Power Generation Emissions on Ambient PM2.5 Pollution and Human Health in China and India.” Environment International, 121, Part 1, Pp. 250-259. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Emissions from power plants in China and India contain a myriad of fine particulate matter (PM2.5, PM≤2.5 micrometers in diameter) precursors, posing significant health risks among large, densely settled populations. Studies isolating the contributions of various source classes and geographic regions are limited in China and India, but such information could be helpful for policy makers attempting to identify efficient mitigation strategies. We quantified the impact of power generation emissions on annual mean PM2.5 concentrations using the state-of-the-art atmospheric chemistry model WRF-Chem (Weather Research Forecasting model coupled with Chemistry) in China and India. Evaluations using nationwide surface measurements show the model performs reasonably well. We calculated province-specific annual changes in mortality and life expectancy due to power generation emissions generated PM2.5 using the Integrated Exposure Response (IER) model, recently updated IER parameters from Global Burden of Disease (GBD) 2015, population data, and the World Health Organization (WHO) life tables for China and India. We estimate that 15 million (95% Confidence Interval (CI): 10 to 21 million) years of life lost can be avoided in China each year and 11 million (95% CI: 7 to 15 million) in India by eliminating power generation emissions. Priorities in upgrading existing power generating technologies should be given to Shandong, Henan, and Sichuan provinces in China, and Uttar Pradesh state in India due to their dominant contributions to the current health risks.


Qing Yang, Hewen Zhou, Xiaoyan Zhang, Chris P. Nielsen, Jiashuo Li, Xi Lu, Haiping Yang, and Hanping Chen. 2018. “Hybrid life-cycle assessment for energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of a typical biomass gasification power plant in China.” Journal of Cleaner Production, 205, Pp. 661-671. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Among biomass energy technologies which are treated as the promising way to mitigate critical energy crisis and global climate change, biomass gasification plays a key role given to its gaseous fuels especially syngas for distributed power plant. However, a system analysis for the energy saving and greenhouse gas emissions abatement potentials of gasification system has been directed few attentions. This study presents a system analysis that combines process and input-output analyses of GHG emissions and energy costs throughout the full chain of activities associated with biomass gasification. Incorporating agricultural production, industrial process and wastewater treatment which is always ignored, the energy inputs in life cycle are accounted for the first commercial biomass gasification power plant in China. Results show that the non-renewable energy cost and GHG emission intensity of the biomass gasification system are 0.163 MJ/MJ and 0.137 kg CO2-eq/MJ respectively, which reaffirm its advantages over coal-fired power plants in clean energy and environmental terms. Compared with other biomass energy processes, gasification performs well as its non-renewable energy cost and CO2 intensity are in the central ranges of those for all of these technologies. Construction of the plant is an important factor in the process’s non-renewable energy consumption, contributing about 44.48% of total energy use. Wastewater treatment is the main contributor to GHG emissions. The biomass gasification and associated wastewater treatment technologies have critical influence on the sustainability and renewability of biomass gasification. The results provide comprehensive analysis for biomass gasification performance and technology improvement potential in regulating biomass development policies for aiming to achieve sustainability globally.

Xinyu Chen, Jiajun Lv, Michael B. McElroy, Xingning Han, Chris Nielsen, and Jinyu Wen. 2018. “Power system capacity expansion under higher penetration of renewables considering flexibility constraints and low carbon policies.” IEEE Transactions on Power Systems. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Deploying high penetration of variable renewables represents a critical pathway for deep decarbonizing the power sector. The conflict between their temporal variability and limited system flexibility has been largely ignored currently at planning stage. Here we present a novel capacity expansion model optimizing investment decisions and full-year, hourly power balances simultaneously, with considerations of storage technologies and policy constraints, such as carbon tax and renewable portfolio standards (RPS). Based on a computational efficient modeling formulation, all flexibility constrains (ramping, reserve, minimum output, minimal online/offline time) for the 8760-hour duration are incorporated. The proposed model is applied to the northwestern grid of China to examine the optimal composition and distribution of power investments with a wide range of renewable targets. Results indicate that the cost can increase moderately towards 45% of RPS, when properly designing the generation portfolio: prioritizing wind investments, distributing renewable investments more evenly and deploying more flexible mid-size coal and gas units. Reaching higher penetrations of renewables is expensive and the reductions of storage costs are critically important for an affordable low-carbon future. RPS or carbon taxes to reach a same target of emission reduction in China will result in similar overall costs but different generation mixes.
Xinyu Chen, Junling Huang, Qing Yang, Chris P. Nielsen, Dongbo Shi, and Michael B. McElroy. 2018. “Changing carbon content of Chinese coal and implications for emissions of CO2.” Journal of Cleaner Production, 194, Pp. 150-157. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The changing carbon content of coal consumed in China between 2002 and 2012 is quantified using information from the power sector. The carbon content decreased by 7.7% over this interval, the decrease particularly pronounced between 2007 and 2009. Inferences with respect to the changing carbon content of coal and the oxidation rate for its consumption, combined with the recent information on coal use in China, are employed to evaluate the trend in emissions of CO2. Emissions are estimated to have increased by 158% between 2002 and 2012, from 3.9 Gt y-1 to 9.2 Gt y-1. Our estimated emissions for 2005 are notably consistent with data reported by China in its “Second National Communication” to the UN (NDRC, 2012) and significantly higher than the estimation published recently in Nature. The difference is attributed, among other factors, to the assumption of a constant carbon content of coal in the latter study. The results indicate that CO2 emissions of China in 2005 reported by Second National Communication are more reliable to serve as the baseline for China's future carbon commitments (e.g. those in Paris Agreement of the UNFCCC). Discrepancies between national and provincial statistics on coal production and consumption are investigated and attributed primarily to anomalous reporting on interprovincial trade in four heavily industrialized provinces.

EV in China

Financial Times Cites Recent China Project Study Exploring Environmental Implications of Electric Vehicle Charging in China

May 23, 2018

A Financial Times article examining the sometimes-ambiguous environmental benefits of electric vehicles in China, whose energy market has yet to fully transition out of being fossil fuel-dominated, cites the findings of a China Project study... Read more about Financial Times Cites Recent China Project Study Exploring Environmental Implications of Electric Vehicle Charging in China

China Project Spring 2018 Newsletter

China Project Spring 2018 Newsletter

May 22, 2018

This spring the Harvard-China Project continued its investigations of the “China 2030/2050” theme sponsored by the Harvard Global Institute (HGI). Our community explored a number of pressing issues, including a Nature Energy paper on the environmental implications of electric vehicle charging in China. The research, which offers a strategy for reducing CO2 emissions and improving air quality with electric vehicles in Beijing, was authored by a Harvard-Tsinghua...

Read more about China Project Spring 2018 Newsletter

Commentary: Does the path to a low-carbon future run through a global grid?

May 21, 2018

satelliteBy Jonathan Mingle

Imagine flipping a switch and lighting your home with hydropower from southern Brazil, solar power from the Sahara Desert, or wind power from the High Arctic. If Liu Zhenya’s plan comes to fruition, sourcing clean energy from the farthest reaches of the globe could become just that routine for billions of electricity users by 2050.... Read more about Commentary: Does the path to a low-carbon future run through a global grid?